Ae Watan Mere Watan is decently rousing and exciting

Sara Ali Khan as Usha Mehta in Ae Watan Mere Watan. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Compared to the drab Swatantrya Veer Savarkar, though I dare say comparisons are odious and unfair in film reviews, I could not help noticing how exciting Ae Watan Mere Watan was.

And I am doing this unfair comparison only because these are two movies I watched back to back about real patriots in India’s freedom struggle! It all, as I have often before, boils down to the script and the director. Of course, this film skips Usha’s exemplary work even after Independence and merely mentions her death in 2000. It does not harp on her Ph. D. (Doctorate) and other distinctions from Bombay University, her ceaseless work in memory of Mahatma Gandhi and her disillusionment with independent India’s social, political and economic progress in her lifetime.

It also must be mentioned here as a tangy point that noted filmmaker Ketan Mehta is one of the real Usha’s nephews, and we do not know why we did not get a biopic from him on her. After all, he has made Sardar and Mangal Pandey: The Rising on other patriots and other biopics on lesser-known men like Ravi Varma, the artist, and Manjhi, who carved a tunnel in a mountain on his own.

Ae Watan… thus traces Usha (Sara Ali Khan)’s early influences when she detests a mentality that is subservient to the British rulers. Her first encounter with Gandhi (Uday Chandra) leads to her acquiring fierce patriotism as a credo and she even takes the vow of celibacy, upsetting her boyfriend Kaushik (Abhay Verma). But he soon understands her point of view and joins her in her missions, partly out of love for her, of course.

Things hot up after radio stations are banned by the British and their atrocities continue. A chance meeting with a radio engineer, Firdaus (Anand Tiwari) leads to Usha deciding to start an underground radio station, for which funds are provided by Bua (Madhu Raja), her father’s maternal aunt who lives with them.

It is after this point, where Usha and her friends play freedom fighters’ speeches on the radio and she herself talks on Freedom to the populace that things hot up. The radio achieves phenomenal popularity and among her chief and ardent supporters is Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia (Emraan Hashmi), the well-known political activist and leader. The Indian leaders, including Gandhi, have been jailed, and Usha, her friends Fahad (Sparsh Laapataa Ladies Shrivastava) and Kaushik, operate the radio passionately, every night at 8.30 p.m., spreading India’s Do or Die fight for the nation and the Quit India movement that has been planned by Gandhi.

The British, of course, see red and more, and appoint an Indian tech wizard to trace the radio. From here, it becomes a cat-and-mouse thriller with both Usha and Dr. Ram Manohar on the one hand, and the British on the other, using 1940s technology to outwit the other.

A powerful emotional angle comes in from Usha’s father (Sachin Khedekar), a judge in British India, who feels that the country has developed and will keep flourishing only if the British rule it. He reforms only after his retirement and acknowledges his daughter’s contribution to the Freedom struggle proudly.

Sara Ali Khan gets the meatiest role of her career and sinks her teeth into it, delivering what is needed except in stray sequences. Sparsh, as in Laapataa Ladies, is exceptional as Fahad, the solid support to Usha. Abhay Verma as Kaushik radiates the innocence and mood changes needed very ably, while Sachin Khedekar is skilled indeed as the judge torn between the British luxuries and his rebel daughter. Manju Raja is simply great as the feisty Bua, and the supporting cast does full justice, like Anand Tiwari as Firdaus, Chrisann Pereira as his girlfriend, Godaan Kumar as Balbir and Alexx O’Nell as the ruthless (but not hammy) British officer John Lyre.

In fact, it is a welcome and major relief to see the British as businesslike real yet dangerous officers of the Crown rather than the evil caricatures they are made to look like in most patriotic movies.

But the real surprise here is Emraan Hashmi as Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia—it’s a correctly understated yet impassionate performance, in which his starry nuances remain unseen. If anyone deserves full marks here, it is our romantic and gray roles specialist hero!

Kannan Iyer, who last directed the passable yet unsuccessful Ek Thi Daayan, rises notches above that work, and her script (with Darab Farooqui) has several moments where the excitement voltage spirals up and I was pleasantly roused into wondering what will happen next and how. The sequences where even youngters are beaten, the entire dargah sequence and the final climax are among the highlights of this film.

After the juvenile (almost) and fictional Yodha, this is a dramatic return to patriotism for co-producer Karan Johar after worthy excursions in Raazi, Kesari, Shershaah and Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl¸ completing yet another biopic on lesser-known and even lesser-celebrated patriots from different eras.

Amazon Prime Video presents Dharmatic Entertainment’s Ae Watan Mere Watan  Produced by: Karan Johar, Apoorva Mehta & Somen Mishra  Directed by: Kannan Iyer  Written by: Kannan Iyer & Darab Farooqui  Music: Mukund Suryawanshi, Akashdeep Sengupta & Shashi Suman  Starring: Sara Ali Khan, Emraan Hashmi (Sp. App.), Abhay Verma, Sparsh Shrivastava, Sachin Khedekar, Manju Raja, Alexx O’Nell, Godaan Kumar, Uday Chandra, Anand Tiwari, Chrissan Pereira, Benedict Garrett, Richard Bhakti Klein, Ashton Bessette, Rick McLane, Ed Robinson, Sanjeev Jaiswal, Aditi Sanwal & others







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